Self-awareness is an essential characteristic when it comes to being a strong leader. I know what you’re probably thinking – “I am self-aware” – but are you really? Research done by Korn Ferry reported only 9% of employees exhibited strong self-awareness.

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is having the ability to truly understand yourself – understanding how your thoughts and emotions drive your behaviors and the impact these behaviors have on others.

It’s knowing yourself well enough to know what you’re feeling at a deeper level, e.g., apathetic, resentful, pressured, unfocused etc. and why you’re feeling it.

Why is self-awareness important?

If we can’t recognize how we’re really feeling and what’s causing us to feel that way we can’t do anything about it – and if we don’t do anything about it, we’re at risk of behaving in aggressive, demeaning and belligerent ways that might alienate others – and if we alienate others it’s likely they’ll avoid us or view us in a negative way which means we won’t have the opportunity to influence or support them, nor will we be able to demonstrate our full capabilities to them. All of which can dramatically derail our career.

A client (let’s call him Ralph) was recently telling me about his boss (let’s call him Scott). Ralph said to me that for the past 2 years he’s been doing everything he possibly can to avoid being around Scott. When I asked what was causing him to do that, he said every time he engages Scott in a discussion about any initiative he’s working on, Scott always tells him he’s doing it wrong, rolls his eyes and makes statements like “you’re only focusing on that because it’s the easy way”.

It’s clear from this example, Scott’s behavior is negatively impacting Ralph as evidenced by Ralph’s avoidance of Scott. However, even more important is that Scott has no clue that this is happening which means his input, perspective and experience are not being brought to the work Ralph is doing which may very well negatively impact the outcomes of Ralph’s work.

Think about how different this situation could be if Scott were to become aware of what he’s thinking and feeling when he’s talking to Ralph and if he could recognize the impact his behaviors are having on Ralph.

How to boost self-awareness?

Spend one month and pay close attention to every situation you find yourself in where you’re experiencing a negative emotion. Then reflect on those situations and ask yourself, “what is it about each situation that has me feeling this way, how might others be perceiving me and what do I want to do about it going forward?

Gather feedback. Talk to someone you trust, e.g., colleague, mentor, or direct report and ask them a couple questions:

  • What are the top 3 things I do or say that help and support you and how specifically do these things help you?
  • What are the top 3 things I can start (or stop) doing to better help and support you and how specifically would these help you?

These questions will help you understand what you might not be seeing yourself and give you greater insight into how you’re impacting others – only with this insight will you be in a position to determine if you’re willing to make any changes.

If you’re interested in diving a little deeper into some of the natural tendencies you’ve developed through the course of your career that you might not be aware of email me at [email protected] and we’ll get a conversation started.